Fletcher Stevens, of Kenai, was surprised to see six cars in the Kalifornsky Beach Road trailhead parking lot Thursday afternoon at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna.
“I’m surprised with the low turnout today,” Stevens said. “There’s usually a lot more people than this. Maybe it’s because it’s midday and because it’s cooler out.”
Six cars midday at Tsalteshi Trails was a lot in past years. That’s not the case anymore.
The Kalifornsky Beach Road trailhead is one of three in the Tsalteshi-Slikok system, which has about 25 kilometers of ski trails and 5 miles of singletrack trails that are used for snowshoeing and fat tire biking in the winter.
Outdoor activity has surged across the country during the new coronavirus pandemic. For many on the central Kenai Peninsula, Stevens included, the Tsalteshi system has been a big part of that outdoor activity.
“It’s great to have these right here,” Stevens said. “I rode my bike here in the summer and now I can use the same trails to ski on my lunch break so I can get out here in daylight.”
The popularity of outdoor activity has been felt by area ski retailers Beemuns Variety and Wilderness Way, both in Soldotna.
Mark Beeson, co-owner of Beemuns Variety, also is the president of the Tsalteshi Trails Association.
“I know the trails have been as busy as they have ever been,” Beeson said. “A lot of people have been getting out. It’s really exciting.”
Both Beeson and Brian Richards, owner of Wilderness Way, said if people are looking to buy cross-country skis, it’s best not to wait.
“We’ve had some good early snow and with everything going on, a lot of people are excited about getting outside and that’s a good way to do it,” Richards said. “We’ve been really busy. It’s the same with snowshoes.”
Richards said a lot of ski manufacturers are simply running out of stock. Complicating matters is that there are a lot of shipping delays right now due to the pandemic.
“We do have another shipment coming in,” Richards said of ski gear. “Once we get that next shipment, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to order a whole lot more after that.”
Beeson said Beemuns does its first order of ski equipment at trade shows in the spring. He said demand had the store looking at reordering before that first shipment even arrived.
“Normally, we reorder into Christmastime, but the manufacturers are already out,” Beeson said. “We still have stuff left in stock, but it’s dwindled.”
Both Beeson and Richard said if current trends continue, it could be hard to find skis for all sizes by after Christmas.
The retailers pinpointed the pandemic for the surge in demand.
“I think people are looking for safe activities to do and keep them entertained,” Beeson said. “Not everybody is locked down, but they are being conscientious about things they are doing. Instead of going on vacation or going to restaurants or bars, they’re spending money on skis, bikes, kayaks — snowmachines might be crazy too.”
As the owner of an outdoors store, Richards is obviously passionate about the outdoors. He said it’s exciting to see so many people investing in winter outdoor activity.
“We have such a long winter, that having something to do outside is good,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people in who are just getting new gear, but we’ve also had a lot of people brand new to the sport. It’s exciting to see so many new people getting outside.”
Stevens started skiing in Montana in 10 years ago and moved to the peninsula this year. Like Beeson and Richards, Stevens said the signs of increased outdoor activity are everywhere. He said the side of the road is packed with backcountry skiers in Turnagain Pass. Stevens and his wife went to Anchorage in search of ice skates and found them extremely hard to find.
Beeson said Beemuns started running out of bikes in May. He said some bikes right now have a 13-month lead time.
“This summer, it was surprising, even without any of the normal tourist traffic, the fishing stuff was just crazy,” Richards said. “A lot of people were getting out fishing.”
Beeson said Tsalteshi has not seen a surge in membership. He said events drive membership and Tsalteshi hasn’t been holding events due to the pandemic.
The fortunate thing is skis — hopefully — will long outlast the pandemic. Beeson said he hopes people’s penchant for outdoor activity will last, as well.
“Skis are relatively low maintenance, especially waxless touring skis,” Beeson said. “Skis are going to last a long time even if you decide you don’t want to use them for a year or two. That stuff will still be there.”